It’s interesting to note that Ariel’s gender is only clarified twice in the play:
- A stage direction refers to Ariel with the male pronoun: “Thunder and lightning. Enter ARIEL, like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table; and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes.”
- Ariel refers to himself with the male pronoun in Act 1: “All hail, great master! grave sir, hail! I come … to thy strong bidding task Ariel and all his quality.”
In Shakespeare’s era (16th century), women were not allowed to perform in theater productions, and it was custom for boys to play female roles. By the Reconstruction period women began playing Ariel. Perhaps the fact that a specific gender has not been definitely prescribed adds to the allure of the character? I think the gender neutrality adds intrigue. Being able to classify and picture the spirit as a female or male makes it seem more human and less magical.